For the first time in years, Ansonia may see redevelopment activity at two eyesores downtown currently owned by the city.
Aldermen will weigh two bids unveiled Thursday (May 21) to transform the run-down buildings — 497 E. Main St. and 153 Main St., known respectively as the Ansonia Technology Park and the Palmer Building — which have sat mostly vacant for years.
One of the bids is from Jerry Nocerino, a developer who owns property throughout Ansonia and the Valley, and a business partner, Charles Smith, a Shelton accountant and real estate investor. Nocerino recently had a stake in turning the former Valley Bowl on Pershing Drive in Derby into a Panera Bread and Aldi grocery store.
The other bid is from Moustapha Diakhate, the owner of the former Farrel Corp. properties straddling the north end of Main Street, which sit next to the city-owned buildings. However, Diakhate’s bid did not include the requested $10,000 deposit, which could cause city officials to look down upon the proposal.
The city has owned the buildings for more than two decades, and its stewardship of the properties has featured a series of stops and starts in redevelopment efforts.
The city struck a deal with a New Jersey-based developer in 2008 to redevelop the buildings into condos, but the redevelopment didn’t happen. The city walked away from the deal in late 2012.
In the time since, the city tried three times tried to sell the buildings, according to Corporation Counsel John Marini.
The shabby condition of the properties has attracted criticism from Valley Indy readers who note that the city has done little to make them look better, at the same time as it has implemented a beefed-up blight law.
Article continues after photo.
The first two floors of the Palmer Building (153 Main St.) have been consistently occupied since the late 1990s, with the Doyle Senior Center and medical offices.
The first floor of the ATP building (497 E. Main St.) was recently used as storage space for a local antiques shop, but is currently empty.
Click here for a comprehensive story detailing the properties’ history.
Fourth Time’s A Charm?
In March city officials decided to offer up the buildings again.
In the request for bids, Mayor David Cassetti touted downtown’s “popular luster of restaurants, antique shops, a major grocer within walking distance, ample parking, and direct access to bus and train lines.”
The mayor said he’s also pushing the state Department of Transportation to mill and repave Main Street, which is a state road.
“I encourage you to submit a proposal at a time when Ansonia is on the verge of a major downtown transformation and to take advantage of this unique opportunity,” Cassetti wrote.
Article continues after the city’s request for proposals.
The latest attempt to attract bids actually succeeded, with two proposals being unveiled Thursday.
The bids are similar — both envision a mix of commercial and residential space, with nearly 100 apartments.
But city officials say only Nocerino’s bid included a required $10,000 deposit check.
The bids will be discussed by the Community Property/Sales & Land Trust subcommittee of the Board of Aldermen, according to Marini, before being considered by the full board at their meeting in June.
The bids did not include proposed purchase prices for the buildings — rather, they focus on how the bidders would redevelop them into viable commercial properties.
Cassetti said Friday that he would be willing to sell the buildings for a nominal price with “clawback” provisions calling for the city to take the properties back if not developed within a certain time period.
A tax abatement deal could also be negotiated, the mayor said.
But Aldermen will have the final say to say yes or no to the proposals.
Nocerino and Smith hope to build about 95 apartments “with exposed brick and wood beam finishes,” as well as 12,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the buildings.
They hope to attract young professionals to the development — called “Copper City” — with an “aesthetically pleasing” layout and design.
“Additionally, a restaurant and/or micro-brewery is planned as part of the retail space,” their proposal says.
The Valley Indy left messages for both Nocerino and Smith Friday.
A budget included in their proposal details nearly $9 million of work they’d invest in the redevelopment.
Article continues after the document.
An annual operating budget also included in the bid package says they estimate renting the apartments for $1,000 a month.
They estimate making about $125,000 annual profit on the redevelopment once debt service costs are taken into account.
Nocerino has plenty of development experience in the Valley — he owns several buildings on the north end of Main Street, where a new bar and grill is taking shape, the Ansonia Commons retail complex at the intersection of Main and Bridge streets, as well as the site of the former Valley Bowl in Derby, at which several new businesses have recently opened.
Nocerino and Smith control about $30 million worth of properties statewide, according to documents submitted with their proposal.
Diakhate’s plans are similar to Nocerino’s and Smith’s, but would also attempt to leverage his ownership of 501 E. Main St. — the former “process lab” of the Farrel Corp., which sits next to the city’s buildings — to make the development more economically viable.
Diakhate bought about 10 acres of property straddling the north end of Main Street formerly owned by the Farrel Corp. in January 2013.
At the time, he said he wanted to redevelop the properties, which feature several old industrial-era buildings, into a mixed-use commercial development with apartments.
But plans for the properties have never been put before the city’s land use boards.
In an interview, Diakhate says his plans for the buildings will transform the area into “something brand new the town really needs.”
Diakhate would knock down 497 E. Main St, the building in which the Senior Center is housed, and rebuild it anew with an entrance on East Main Street.
The new senior center would be state of the art, Diakhate said, and include senior housing on the top two floors of the four-story building. He said he wants to work with the city to offer a dozen of the apartments to seniors and military veterans who can’t afford market-rate housing.
Diakhate would then incorporate 157 Main St. into his redevelopment of 501 E. Main St. The two properties sit next to each other.
The development would include 96 one- and two-bedroom apartments, nine spots for retail and business tenants, and a rooftop terrace, according to Diakhate’s plans.
He envisions a “Buffalo Wild Wings”-type restaurant with patio seating and also second floor with a quieter dining experience.
Article continues after plans Diakhate emailed to the Valley Indy.
A couple of wrinkles, though — for one, the city has recently hit Diakhate with blight fines totaling more than $1 million for promising to fix up the building and missing deadlines.
Click here for a previous story.
Diakhate says he’s since corrected all the blight issues cited by the city. He hopes Aldermen will drop the lien when they see his plans for redevelopment.
The second stumbling block for Diakhate’s bid — it didn’t include the requisite $10,000 deposit, city officials said.
Marini indicated the lack of a deposit could doom Diakhate’s proposal.
“There’s certainly justification for the Aldermen to reject the bid on that basis,” he said.
But the Aldermen will have final say.
“The bids have to be considered and accepted or denied by the Aldermen,” Marini said. “Even if someone brought it in on a cocktail napkin we would still have to pass it up the chain.”
City officials are optimistic the bids may lead to movement at the buildings, which have sat underutilized for years.
“After years of waiting — they put it out to bid numerous times in the past, (and) never got anybody wanting to bid on it — and now we’ve gotten two,” Cassetti said last week. “I’m excited about the plans.”
“Both (proposals) coincide with the administration’s hope for those properties — development of commercial, residential, and retail space,” Marini said.
City officials want redevelopment downtown to give people a reason to come downtown, particularly at night, when Main Street is for the most part dormant except for a handful of restaurants.
“To do that we need a synergy of commercial activities,” Marini said. “We need the restaurants, but we also need the shops. We need entertainment.”